If you've noticed that your toddler has become increasingly clingy, anxious and scared around strangers, don't worry. Stranger anxiety is a normal part of a toddler's development. As an young one's thought process matures and he takes another step toward independence, he may have more extreme, seemingly irrational responses to everyday objects and situations. The good news is that your toddler is likely to grow out of his fear of strangers in a few months.
When Does it Happen?
According to Heidi Murkoff, author of the best-selling pregnancy and parenting book "What to Expect When You're Expecting," stranger anxiety typically affects toddlers between 12 and 24 months old. You should be aware that it doesn't only occur with complete strangers; even friends and relatives to whom your infant is close can trigger anxiety. Basically, anybody apart from her parents can cause stranger anxiety in a toddler.
Cause of Stranger Anxiety
Experts are not entirely sure why toddlers suffer from stranger anxiety, says Murkoff. Some infants don't experience it at all, while others may be troubled by it for several months or go through phases of it during infancy. What the professionals do know is that stranger anxiety is not caused by anything parents do. If anything, it's a sign that your toddler has a close, healthy bond with you.
How to Help
The first thing to do when your toddler appears scared of strangers is comfort and reassure him. Do everything you can to make him feel safe and secure. Murkoff recommends acknowledging the fear in a simple way that your toddler will understand, such as asking him "Why do you feel scared?" Continue reassuring him by saying you don't want him to be scared and would never do anything to cause him any harm. Prepare him for going into the company of others to help allay his fears. For example, if you're taking him to a party, tell him in advance who will be there and remind him of when he last saw them. Tell him that he has nothing to be scared of and that you will be there with him the whole time.
If your toddler is scared of one particular person but nobody else, observe that person around your child to identify whether there is a specific reason for the fear. If your toddler's reaction to strangers is extreme or distressing for no apparent reason, make an appointment with your pediatrician.